Skooter report 01/20/11
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on Earth, capable of running 64 miles per hour. However, this cat cannot sustain high speeds for long. Cheetahs typically run in short bursts covering distances of up to 500 yards. Most chases last less than one minute, so the cheetah must quickly catch its prey before it escapes.
Cheetahs are designed for speed. Their large nostrils allow for increased intake of oxygen, and their oversized heart and lungs help power their bodies. The sleek cat uses the weight of its tail to balance its body through sharp turns, and its spine acts as a spring for the powerful hind legs.
While other big cats hunt at night, the cheetah often hunts in the early morning and at dusk, suffocating its prey with a bite to the neck or the nose. Cheetahs are vulnerable to larger predators, such as spotted hyenas and lions, which can kill their cubs and steal their prey. Because of its small size, the cheetah usually avoids fighting, and if confronted (even by just a single hyena), it will often surrender a kill immediately rather than risk injury.
Cheetahs form unique social groups. Males belong to permanent groups of two or three individuals, known as coalitions. Females live alone, except when raising cubs. Male cheetahs stays together for life, and try to gain access to small territories that they defend from other males. Females, by contrast, can range across immense areas that encompass many male territories and overlap with those of other females.
Cheetahs range widely and need large areas of undisturbed land with sufficient wild prey to survive. Suitable habitats are becoming increasingly scarce. Though these cats once occurred from South Africa across western Asia to India, today, fewer than 15,000 survive in patches of habitat in Africa. The centers of the cheetah’s distribution are in southern and eastern Africa. Of the five subspecies of cheetah recognized by scientists, the most critically endangered remain in fragmented habitat in the western Sahara and in Iran. These populations are thought to number between 60 and 100 respectively, making them some of the most endangered cats on Earth.
Once hunted for the captive trade, the cheetah now suffers primarily from loss of habitat and wild prey—including medium and small antelope such as gazelles, springboks, and impalas, as well as wildebeest, zebras, and other animals. And while cheetahs are considered important for ecotourism, where the cats live alongside people, they can come into conflict with livestock and gamekeepers, who sometimes kill them in retaliation for loss of livestock or game.
Young cheetahs are vulnerable in some parts of their range—predators kill an estimated 90 percent of cubs. An illegal trade for cubs as pets or for private collections also exists, although the magnitude of this trade is unknown. The IUCN Red List labels cheetahs as a whole as Vulnerable. The North African subspecies is considered Threatened and the Asiatic and northwestern Saharan subspecies are listed as Critically Endangered.
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